Q & A Session with Andy Thomas, Lighting Designer
This month, we’re continuing our Lighting Designer sessions by interviewing Andy Thomas of Viewpoint Lighting. You may know Andy from his involvement with the AOLP. Currently, Andy is the President of the California chapter of the AOLP, as well as a committee member of the CLVLT and COLD certification programs. Andy also has experience in lighting manufacturing, distribution, and installation which gives him a unique perspective when it comes to creating beautifully lighted scenes using top quality products.
So let’s find out why Andy is so passionate about landscape lighting:
What first attracted you to landscape lighting?
I grew up in a green-industry household. My dad did irrigation repair and I rode along with him when I was a kid, and my brother worked as a manager and sales rep for several landscape supply distributors. I knew I wanted to work outside, but I also knew I didn’t want to work on sprinklers.
My experience in distribution started my interest in the landscape lighting field, and after a short stint as a sales rep for FX Luminaire, I was hooked. After that I had to start out on my own, and since I knew quite a lot about low-voltage landscape lighting, that’s what I focused on for my business.
What sets you apart from other landscape lighting companies?
There are many amazing lighting companies out there, and I admire them immensely. But what sets me apart from the pack is my attention to detail. I don’t like cutting corners or making compromises. Because my biggest limitation is time (I’m a part-time stay at home dad), I can pick those projects that will allow me the proper budget to eliminate any chance of being forced to make compromises in my design or installation. In the end, I accept fewer projects, but every project turns out the way I want, and exceeds the expectations of my clients.
What was your most challenging project?
My biggest challenge to date was the recently completed collaboration with a couple of other lighting specialists who are fellow members of the AOLP. We tag-teamed the lighting of the California State Governor’s Mansion State Historical Park, a 12,000sq.ft. three story mansion built in 1877.
The project required me to work together with other lighting designers, which meant we all had different ideas and schedules. Since we were donating our time, it was also a financial challenge. The project utilized new technology and custom fixture mounting methods, which required the implementation of almost every lighting technique available. In the end, the result was spectacular, and everyone involved was blown away by our collective efforts.
My first forays into LED were experiments in my own backyard “lab” in 2009. Back then, I was trying out cheap LED drop-in lamps from no-name manufacturers and I wasn’t impressed.
I think it was some time in 2010 that I started using Illumicare lamps, which made the LED leap much easier. I knew I finally had something I could predict…a known value that the other lamps just weren’t giving me. I really wasn’t comfortable putting my name on this “new” technology until I started using the Illumicare lamps.
What lighting issues did LEDs solve when you started incorporating the lamps into your designs?
I’ve found LEDs have many unforeseen benefits. Originally I (similar to many homeowners) was looking at the energy cost savings as the selling point. While this is a benefit, it’s not the most important. I don’t think it’s even one of my top 5 reasons to use LEDs. I originally started using LED lamps to be a quick and permanent fix for other contractors’ bad wiring methods (and still do).
Adding fixtures to a maxed-out system is a snap now because I can convert the halogens to LED, add extra fixtures and have room to spare. The LEDs also put less stress on the bad system wiring, splices and faults. This is in addition to the usual benefits of LED: lower maintenance, less wire, smaller transformers, and simpler wiring methods. Also less heat which means no fires and cleaner lenses (the hard water deposits don’t get baked on as they do with halogen). The list goes on.
Which past, or present, lighting project truly defines who you are as a lighting designer? And why?
One project sticks out as a defining moment in my design career. It was another challenge for personal reasons – or I should say personality.
I have a degree in Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology, and this project put me up against a rather eccentric Psychiatrist. With each new transaction or conversation, I quickly discovered what a huge role my formal education could play in designing lighting systems. From the sales pitch to customer service, to the perception of light and its role in our lives, psychology and sociology plays a huge part.
This is when I feel I moved from being a lighting guy into becoming a lighting designer. And the lighting turned out amazing!
What do you see as being the future of the lighting industry? Challenges? Opportunities? Threats?
The future will bring more of everything. It’s all about options. As a lighting designer, it is my job to do the research and compare, compile and condense all the information on available products, so that I can present 2-3 well-researched options to my client. As the lighting industry matures, we will see more and more improvements in efficiency, cost, and features. Features like fixture-level dimming control, color control, automation and smart-phone interfacing.
While the bulk of sales will stay in the basics, experienced designers and savvy clients will demand more flexibility out of their lighting systems. And a few manufacturers out there will make the effort to keep up with those demands.
What advice would you give other landscape lighting designers and installers about using LED lamps?
Like any new technology, try it out, experiment with it and ask for others’ opinions. You have to do your due diligence in researching the options before exposing yourself to potential risk by charging a client for something you know nothing other than what the brochure promised or what the sales rep said.
Stick to manufacturers you know have been around a while, and those that stand behind their warranty. After that, forget everything you knew about halogen and other incandescent light sources, and challenge yourself to learn the new language that is LED.
You will find that breaking the mold and relearning your trade is ultimately easier and more rewarding than the frustrations of trying to make new technology fit into your traditional paradigm.
About Viewpoint Lighting
Viewpoint Lighting is a full service landscape lighting company, with the expertise and capability to handle every aspect of your landscape lighting needs, including pre-planning, design, consultation, installation, troubleshooting, repair, and routine maintenance.
We work alone or with your landscaper and/or designer/architect to get the lighting right from the start, saving you the added costs and hassle of disturbing your new landscape to redo your lighting. In existing landscapes and established yards, we can remove existing lighting systems and/or add new lighting while minimizing impact on the plantings and hardscape.
MAIN PHONE: (916)501-0495